Regulate online gaming

One of the most open secrets in our country is that people gamble on sports, even though it is illegal. Gamblers and bookies in turn try to improve the odds in their favour by persuading players to “throw” games by under-performing. This is corroding, if not destroying, sports in our country. Is it not time we did something about it?

In January, I brought in a private member’s bill in Parliament to protect the integrity of sports by dealing with the issue of sports fraud, while at the same time regulating the online market for sports betting. It penalises various forms of sports fraud, including sharing inside information, bribery, misrepresentation about an athlete’s qualifications or manipulation of a sports result.

My bill establishes a special procedure for law enforcement authorities to deal with such cases. It also covers foreign nationals committing these offences on Indian soil as well as Indian citizens engaging in these activities in foreign countries. Depending on the type of sports fraud, the punishment I propose can range from one to five years of imprisonment, along with a fine which can range from Rs5 lakh or three times the economic benefits derived by the person from sporting fraud, whichever is greater.

Our present approach to sports gaming is flawed; the approach of banning such activities has only driven it into the black market and promoted criminality. We should allow online sports gaming, as long as there is an oversight mechanism through a regulatory body that can control the money flow and activities of those in the field. My proposed legislation establishes an online sports gaming commission as the regulator. The commission will have oversight of online gaming websites, track illegal online sports gaming, monitor suspicious betting patterns of persons, and provide periodic or special reports to the Union government on any matter pertaining to online sports gaming, including ways to encourage it.

Illustration: Job P.K. Illustration: Job P.K.

There is no statute in India which expressly criminalises sports fraud or the manipulation of sporting events. This was highlighted by the trial court judging the 2013 IPL matching-fixing allegations. Similarly, there is no consolidated approach to dealing with sports betting in our country.

Sports betting is a state subject, but online sports gaming comes under the jurisdiction of Parliament. Therefore, my bill deals with the twin issues of sports fraud and online sports gaming.

Only few states have enacted a regulatory framework to enable online gaming. There is the Nagaland Prohibition of Gambling and Promotion and Regulation of Online Games of Skill Act, 2015, and the Sikkim Online Gaming (Regulation) Act, 2008, whereas other states prohibit it altogether. For instance, there are news reports that Maharashtra may enact legislation outlawing online gaming. There is no consistent approach at the national level.

Online betting is a booming sector. The 276th Report of the Law Commission of India estimates the present online gambling market to be worth $360 million, and they expect it to rise to $1 billion by 2021. Regulating this sector can help increase revenue for the state. At the same time, it will help to limit the generation of black money.

The case is clear—my bill would regulate gambling, squeeze out criminality, end match-fixing, increase revenues for the state and preserve the integrity of sports. What’s not to like? It will not pass in the limited time available in this Parliament’s life. But, I hope that putting it on the table will provoke a discussion that eventually will bring about change.